by Scott Ashley
Max Martin is a highly successful Swedish songwriter and producer mega hit machine of today known for creating numerous hit songs for some of the biggest pop artists in the world in the past few years.
Max Martin recently broke the record for producing most #1 songs when Ariana Grande’s “Yes, And?” recently debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The previous record holder was the late George Martin, the famous producer of the Beatles. Furthermore, Max Martin is the songwriter with the second-most number-one singles on the Billboard charts (26), behind only Paul McCartney (32). With 26 #1 hits, he is currently tied with John Lenon (at press time February 1, 2024). Max has been on a monster pop hit making roll since the mid-1990s with hits that includes: Britney Spears's "...Baby One More Time" (1998), Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" (2008) and "Roar" (2013), Maroon 5's "One More Night" (2012), Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" and "Blank Space" (2014), and the Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" (2019) and "Save Your Tears" (2020). "Blinding Lights" is the best performing Hot 100 song of all time according to the Billboard Hot 100 (as of press time, January 2024).
While the specific techniques he uses may not be explicitly outlined, there are certain characteristics and strategies that are commonly associated with his songwriting success. Here are some key elements of Max Martin's songwriting techniques:1. Strong Melodies:
Max Martin is renowned for crafting catchy and memorable melodies. His ability to create hooks that instantly grab the listener's attention is a hallmark of his work. He often focuses on creating simple yet effective melodic lines that resonate with a wide audience. Examples: the catchy melodic line:"I Kissed a Girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry ChapStick…” in the #1 hit that was recorded by Katy Perry "I Kissed a Girl". The strong melodic lines in the chorus hooks the listener in.
2. Universal Themes:
Martin tends to use universal themes and emotions in his lyrics. By addressing topics and feelings that many people can relate to, he increases the song's appeal and accessibility. This approach contributes to the widespread popularity of his songs. Example in the lyrics of his song: "You feel like paradise and I need a vacation tonight. So, if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?" in the #1 hit recorded by Britney Spears “Hold it Against Me”.
Collaboration is a key aspect of Max Martin's approach. He often works closely with other talented songwriters and producers. This collaborative process allows for the exchange of ideas and the pooling of creative strengths, leading to the creation of well-crafted and polished songs. Example: he collaborated with Dr Luke (Lukasz Gottwald, a multi-hit producer and songwriter), Bonnie McKee (multi-hit singer-songwriter) in the #1 hit song “Hold it Against Me”.
4. Emphasis on the Chorus:
Martin places a strong emphasis on the chorus of a song. The chorus is often the most memorable part of a track, and he knows how to make it stand out. This involves crafting a strong melodic hook, impactful lyrics, and often employing dynamic production techniques to make the chorus memorable and anthemic. Example: "It's my life, it's now or never, I ain't gonna live forever, I just want to live while I'm alive", the chorus of “It’s My Life”, co-written with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora for Bon Jovi. The song hit #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2000.
5. Innovative Production Techniques:
Max Martin is known for incorporating innovative production techniques into his songs. He borrows styles from different genres. His hit song “Hold it Against Me” blends pulsating industrial and trance beats with elements of grime (Grime is a genre of EDM). It also featured a dubstep-influenced breakdown.
Whether it's using unique sounds, creative arrangements, or cutting-edge production tools, he strives to keep his music sounding fresh and modern. The unique edge that Max Martin has is that he is also a producer, not just a songwriter.
6. Short Intros:
His #1 hit songs "...Baby One More Time"and "Shake It Off" have short intros. Research shows that a listener on a streaming platform like Spotify will hit skip on a song before even 30 seconds has passed. Therefore, it's important to grab the listener's attention right from the start. This creates an immediate engagement: this captures the listener's attention right away - gets right to the point. Shorter Intros are aligned these days with modern tastes for Pop songs today: Aligns with the fast-paced consumption habits of today for today's newer generation. Shorter intros also tend to correlate with higher chart positions on the Billboard charts.
7. Keeping it Simple and a Grandmaster of Hooks:
Max Martin has kept his songs simple that traces back to the influences of Martin’s upbringing. As a child he would listen to some of his parents’ favorite records, CCR, Elton John and The Beatles but not being able to speak English, instead, the melody became the most important aspect. This emphasis on simplicity has been with Martin ever since his first charting single in 90’s to today and it has been integral to his success as a songwriter and producer. In pop music, this idea is even more important. Instead of a full song, sometimes you only have 30 seconds to get your point across to the listener. Therefore, those first few seconds are most important, think of it as a song ID: the hook.
8. He's a Super-Collaborator:
12 years after Martin co-wrote her first hit "...Baby One More Time", Britney Spears trusted him to executive produce her 2011 album "Femme Fatale". The success of Karl Johan Schuster, a Martin protégé who’s now a Grammy-winning songwriter-producer called Shellback: he’s co-written countless hits with Martin, and several others, including Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger, without him. Martin has a keen understanding of the target audience for the music he creates. This awareness helps him tailor his songs to resonate with a broad demographic, contributing to their commercial success with his various collaborations.
It's important to note that while these characteristics are associated with Max Martin's songwriting success, the art of songwriting is subjective and multifaceted. What works for one songwriter may not work for another, and creativity often involves breaking traditional rules. While learning from successful songwriters like Max Martin can provide valuable insights, developing a unique voice and style is equally important in the world of writing Pop songs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Ashley is a songwriter and graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a voting member of the Recording Academy (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). He is currently working as the Artist Relations director with the USA Songwriting Competition and IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards). His book "How to Write Better Songs" hit #1 on the Amazon Best Seller Books Charts last year. Click here to purchase Scott Ashley's book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B5PLFGKX
For information on the 29th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net